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Which three Presidential candidates are dominating the talk on social media?

Continuing our coverage of the 2016 US Presidential election race, we want to take a step back and see how the official candidates are doing for both the Democrats and Republicans on social media.

With the Republican debates having already kicked off, the race has really been heating up for the GOP in the news and on social media. Trump’s ongoing controversial comments are continuing to drive social media wild and both Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are showing promising (and surprising) signs of working their way up the poll rankings after the first debates.

On the other side of this political race, the Democrats are yet to hold their first live-television debates, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been talk on the social-sphere.

So, before the next round of debates, for both Democrats and Republicans, kick off in September, we wanted to take a look at how both parties’ candidates have been fairing on social media, based on the 218 million social messages we’ve processed over the last month.

While it might seem obvious that the Republicans are going to have the lion’s share of social engagement, what with having held their first couple of debates, including the live television debate we previously covered.

But after running the data, what stood out was how well some of the Democrat candidates are performing. I mean, they haven’t had a live TV debate to help boost the social conversation around them… or have they? 

Talking behind their backs… live on television

Looking at the data, on the night of the live Republican TV debate, we see a huge spike in the volume of mentions around Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in particular and from that date the mentions of the two front-running Democratic candidates seem to be a lot higher than prior to the debate.

Now, the large spike during the debate is most likely attributed to the Republican candidates taking pot-shots at some of the Democrat candidates during the live broadcast, in particular they mentioned Clinton and Sanders – so it’s easy to see how and why there is a spike in conversation here.

However, the size of the spike is what’s surprising.

During the hours of the Fox News Republican Primary debates, (between 5pm and 12am), we processed nearly 19 million social messages

On the night both Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina saw the largest amount of social engagement from the TV debate, which was discussed in our previous blog posts, however, the next most talked about candidate on social media, on the night, was Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders was the ninth most talked about candidate.

Just to clarify, two candidates from the opposing party, who weren’t even at the TV debates saw more traction on social media than the majority of the other Republican candidates, who were actually involved in the TV debates. 

The ripple effect

And that engagement for the two seems to have continued ever since the night of the debates. Before the debates on August 6, 2015, both Clinton and Sanders had some engagement on social media, as they moved around the US holding rallies and fundraisers. But, generally, the amount of social engagement was relatively small.

After the debates aired the social engagement for Clinton and Sanders has increased significantly prior to the August 6th debates.

Some of this social engagement could be attributed to some of the controversial events which have happened recently for Clinton and Sanders – specifically Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and Bernie Sanders’ Seattle rally being hijacked by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

Putting our finger on the pulse

On the back of this, we used our big data analytics engine to create a Pulse Score for all the candidates to see just how well the candidates were doing.

Exclusive to Digital Contact, our Pulse Scores are created using proprietary algorithms, developed in-house, which allow us to see how many mentions an entity (person, product, place, company, etc.) is gaining on social media.  In a nutshell, we compare the number of mentions for an entity at a given moment to what we’d expect – the higher the pulse score, the more unusually high the mentions for that entity. Large spikes in a pulse score generally correlate with major events the entity is involved with.


For example, as we’ve previously mentioned, Donald Trump has consistently caused a stir on social media throughout his candidacy – so when we see high volumes of social engagement, we expect it – it’s the norm for him.

Therefore the average amount of social engagement (for all candidates) is symbolised by a Pulse Score of 0 (zero) – this allows us to see where social engagement is higher or lower than expected.

If we look at the Pulse Score chart (below) we can see that Trump’s Social Pulse Score was relatively low and steady before and after the debate. This isn’t to say that the volume of social engagement was low, quite the opposite – he has been consistently high.

However, on the night of the debate Trump’s social engagement increased dramatically, as his social engagement rose far above the norm for him.

Social Pulse Score comparison between Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Carson and Fiorina.

If we take a look at both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the same Pulse Score chart, we can see they both had a relatively low and steady amount of Social Pulse Score throughout their candidacy and then saw intense peaks during the Republican debate. Then after the debate we can see further peaks – while not as high, they show how the social engagement has continued to be higher after the debates.

As a comparison we have included both Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson in the Pulse Score chart. Both Fiorina and Carson performed better than expected on the debate night and received a huge boost in the amount of social engagement.

However, unlike Clinton and Sanders, Fiorina and Carson’s Social Pulse Score dips back down to their norm within a day of the debate (with the exception of a couple of small peaks for Carson a few days later). 

So who’s winning on social media?

While we have pulled together the data, the answer to this question might be skewed in the Republican Party’s favour – as mentioned the Democrats are yet to hold a live television debate, which will no doubt boost their social engagement significantly.

However, that said – the results are still very interesting.

Pie chart looking at mentions of candidates running for their party's nomination for President.

As you can see, so far the Republican Party candidates appears to be dominating the Democratic Party candidates on social media. Even Clinton and Sanders’ boost in social engagement on the night of the Republican debate, hasn’t really helped boost the statistics for the Democrats.

You might assume that this difference is down to the fact that there are 17 Republicans running and only five Democrats who have formally announced their candidacy. If everyone had the same number of mentions, we'd see pretty much the above split between the Republicans and the Democrats. But a closer look at the data reveals a more interesting picture. 

The Trump effect

Just by looking at the political news coverage (especially in the US) it’s clear to see that Donald Trump has really piqued the interest of journalists and the general public.

His controversial comments and dominating attitude make for entertaining political debates and that is reflected by just how much of the Republican Party’s overall social score is supported by Donald Trump (see chart below).

Pie chart shows the breakdown of social conversation when Donald Trump's share is excluded from the Republican Party's share.

As you can see in the chart above, Donald Trump’s social media engagement is bigger than the combined forces of his own party and also the Democrats’ candidates.

Chart shows the breakdown of each running candidate's share of social conversation.

Breaking that data down even further, we can see exactly how those percentages are shared between the different candidates. As you can clearly see the conversations for the Democratic candidates are just dominated by two people: Clinton and Sanders, making up 97.9% of the Democrats' share in conversation.

In fact, the top three candidates, according to our data, make up just over 65% of the total conversation on social media over the past month.

And while this chart was created out of our own interest, it’s also a potential chart to look at in the future - as Trump infamously said at the start of the first live Republican TV debate that he would refuse to support the overall winner of the Republican Primaries and if he didn’t become the leader for the Republicans he would most likely run as an independent candidate.

So, if Trump does decide to leave the Republicans and goes independent, we might be looking at more pie charts like this in the future.

For now, we are going to continue keeping an eye on the Presidential race and see if the social engagement for the Democratic Party increases to match that of the Republicans, or whether Trump’s activities keep the Republicans ahead.

[Please note: Digital Contact is in no way directly affiliated with any political party or candidate]


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